Only that which will bring you honor

Some years ago, I knew someone who was fairly popular in a group I associated with. Being “in” with this person meant being in with the surrounding group. For purposes of ease and anonymity, I’ll call this person “They”. They were genial and charismatic, and appeared friendly to many, including myself. They were patient and intent on their spiritual journey. They had the ear of the leaders of the group and knew a great deal about what went on. They were the “one to know”.

It seems hardwired into our DNA to want to feel included in a group. To be included is to feel safe, to have access to opportunities that being alone doesn’t offer. Childhood conditioning says that being in with the cool kids is the place to be. It’s a hard feeling to outgrow, even when one is far into adulthood.

I spent some time with this group, and slowly realized that being in the “in” crowd meant hearing a lot of gossip. At first, it was gratifying. It felt good to be an “us” vs “other”. They don’t call it “juicy” gossip for no reason. There’s a satisfaction that often comes with gossip. I’m not saying it’s a skillful satisfaction by any means, but it’s an easy road to go down.

In time though, I noticed how these gossip sessions felt, and I found that the energy was not that which I enjoyed. I would walk away feeling aversion, creating stories in my mind about the people discussed. There was a sense of how “I” was better (yikes!). There was also a sinking feeling in my gut that told me that I wasn’t following my own values.

I also had other more skillful groups to compare this one to. Groups which I never heard speaking ill of others, and accordingly, how much better it felt to be around the more skillful groups. Slowly I came to a realization: I’d rather not be included in a group that regularly engaged in gossip. The “cool kids”… no longer seemed all that cool.

The more I saw how gossip had tainted the behavior of this group, the less I wanted to be a part of it, even though all of them had many other good qualities. These were people that I had learned from and even admired. I still look upon the members of this group as whole people who engage in skillful and unskillful behavior, just as I do. We’re all trying to find happiness, and usually we all go about finding it in a misguided or deluded way. This is only part of their behavior, and perhaps only my perception. I wish them all well. And if I only associate with perfect practitioners, it would be quite a lonely practice. I couldn’t even associate with myself. Yet at least at this time, I feel it’s better to avoid placing myself in company of those with which unskillful behavior is likely to follow.

There’s a saying, “If you spot it, you got it”, meaning that the things we find annoying in others are often the things we like (and see) least in ourselves. I know I’ve said things in the past that have not been skillful, and knowing how it has the potential to be painful to me (let alone the other person), makes me hope not to engage in such behavior in the future.

Sometimes there’s also a fine line with mixed intentions. I may relate an event or series of events to a friend to get their opinion. Yet I can’t say that there isn’t at least a small part of me that is hungry for that friend to help me build up my “he said, she said” story. But genuine guidance and reflection from a spiritual friend is always welcome in the long run, and sometimes that means relating details about others that may be negative. Where’s the middle way?

Even this blog post could be an example. My intention is not to point a finger or identify anyone. My intention is to reveal the difficulties I have faced with gossip in order to share with others that difficulty and also to offer reflections on what I have found helpful.

The Buddha offered guidance on things to consider before admonishing someone, which certainly would hold true for relating information to someone else:

It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good will.” (AN 5.158, Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation)

Guru Nanak said “Speak only that which will bring you honor”.

Perhaps the key is to remember to check in with the heart and with one’s intentions before one opens one’s mouth. Perhaps easier said than done, but as the saying goes, that’s why they call it a practice.

Be well and peaceful, dear readers. If you’ve found ways of keeping your speech skillful, please feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

The Truth of Harry Potter

I’ve spent the last week down with the flu. It was all that you’d expect from the flu: coughing, aching, fever, nausea, vomiting, etc., etc.. Since I live with my parents who are elderly with medical issues, I spent much of my time holed away in my room avoiding contact that could make anyone else sick.

I’d like to say that I spent all of that time in copious meditation and death contemplation, but I can’t. I did some, but I also spent a lot of it watching movies on my computer.

Like the entire Harry Potter series.

As my mind cleared, however, I realized there are a few points that could be considered Dharma or Dhamma in the Harry Potter films, or just food for thought if one isn’t Buddhist.

Let’s pick the first movie. Spoiler alert for that one person left on the planet that hasn’t seen them yet and wants to. At the beginning of the movie, Harry and his friends become convinced that Professor Snape is the villain who wants to steal the philosopher’s stone. Each action taken convinces them of this perception more and more, despite the assurances by other professors that this is not the case. Harry’s broomstick is cursed? Snape is seen chanting incantations, so clearly it must be him. Snape get’s a gash on his leg? Further evidence. Each piece of the puzzle is put in place akilter because the trio has already decided on what the truth is. Any further evidence is seen in the light of what they perceive. No one can tell them otherwise until they discover the truth for themselves at the end of the movie.

The viewer is brought along with them by emotion and our own perceptions. We become convinced of the “rightness” of the characters and along with them, conceive what is “true” through our own glasses of perception. At the end of the movie, the characters discover that Professor Snape was protecting the stone and them, all along. The glasses are taken off and we see the truth.

Sure, it’s a kid’s movie that may be beating us over the head with what seems to be obvious, but how often do we do this in real life? Nearly anything we perceive has the potential to be grossly wrong. Yet we color what we see through delusion-colored glasses, often putting two and two together to make five. We hold onto that perception so tightly that we can’t let go. Until we find out for ourselves that it was all wrong (if we’re lucky).

How many things which we take for certain….aren’t?

Everything.

Professor Snape gets a bad wrap throughout all the movies, and characters and viewers alike consider him to be a persona non grata of sorts. Granted, he’s not exactly a warm, fuzzy, likable character, so it’s easy to do. But in the last movie, we see a clearer picture of Snape than we did before. We see his propensity towards the darker arts, yet we also see his love for Lilly and some of the trials he suffered at the hands of those we’ve thought of as heroes. We see how even though he joined Voldemort’s side early on,  he made the decision to become a guardian to Harry and to help Dumbledore in the fight against Voldemort. We see a more complete picture of him than just the simple “truth” that we assumed from the beginning of the movies.

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.” Robert Evans

So it is with all of us. We all have multiple layers of perception, of truth, of skillful and unskilful behavior. We know this intellectually, but I found in Harry Potter a reminder. That how we think of a person is shaped by our own perceptions of “truth”.  It’s easy to conceive an entire picture of someone based on our own perceptions of them, either good or bad, but how much of it is truth? Can we really know?

Be well and peaceful.

 

 

 

Yeh Mera Pahale Baar Yahaan Pe Nahiin Hai, Or, This Is Not My First Time Here

I was recently encouraged to write an entry on some scams I’ve encountered in my travels in India. Having been there several times now, I’ve met with a few.

First of all, I don’t want to portray a negative image of India. While it has it’s problems, it has great people, beauty, history, and culture. If I didn’t love it so much, I would have stopped going after my first time there. I’ve been back twice, and it keeps drawing me back.

 I would like to point out that I have met multitudes of genuine, friendly, honest, and caring people in India. Many of them have taken this lone traveler under their wing, fed me, looked after me, and sometimes even invited me into their home. Like anywhere else, one encounters both honest and not-so-honest actions. But India does have a reputation for it’s share of touts, or people out to make a buck off of unsuspecting tourists.

Also bear in mind that even the poorest traveler to India has access to much more money than most of the people trying to get them to part with it. Scads. And many of these scams amount to the sum of only a few dollars. Yes, it’s a pain in the assets. When visiting for longer periods of time, it does get old sometimes, and makes one wary that everyone is out to make money from them. It also discourages many tourists from returning, which in the long run won’t be helpful for vendors. But one has to ask themselves if it’s really worth getting upset over. There are no easy answers. Caution, a big-picture view, patience, compassion, and a sense of humor go a long way.

So that being said, here is a short list of scams I’ve seen, and some I’ve even fallen for:

“Shoe! Shoe” – On my first trip to India I saw a woman in Delhi who was wearing a pair of sandals that appeared ready to disintegrate. She said she didn’t want money. Just a new pair of shoes. She then led me to a shop and pointed out a pair of shoes that cost 500 rupees, or $8 USD (twice the price as what they usually cost). I fell for it, and bought her the pair of shoes. Later I saw her walking around begging with the same raggedy shoes, and was told that she most likely split the proceeds with the vendor (who kept the shoes to sell again).

Taken for a ride – Quite a common thing is to be told by a rickshaw wallah that they will take you to a major attraction for a nice low price. And they will, eventually. On the way, they’ll take you to a rug shop, a carving shop, a sari shop, a jewelry shop…basically  the shops of all their friends, where they’ll earn a percentage of anything you buy. Even if you tell them you are not interested, they’ll say “Just to look”. Walk away and find another driver.

This also happens with hotels. The drivers will tell you that your hotel is full or was just closed down due to a fire, bankruptcy, bubonic plague, or whatever. Or they’ll pretend they can’t find your hotel. They will try to take you to a “much better hotel” run by their uncle. Don’t do it. They’ll overcharge you and get the profits.

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“The meter is broken” – Another rickshaw or taxi driver trick. You’re much better off using the meter, but I’ve rarely seen them used outside of southern India or in Kolkata for people who live there and know better. Usually drivers prefer to give you an inflated price, and sometimes even raise it while you’re riding along. If you’ve just arrived at an airport or train station in India, find the prepaid taxi stand. It’s your best bet. Or learn to either bargain aggressively or be overcharged.

“Change for the worse” – Torn currency is not accepted by most vendors, but if there’s an unsuspecting tourist, they will often unload it on them as change. Be alert.

“There’s no such thing as a free blessing” – If someone wearing orange or in costume (one guy in Rishikesh dresses up as Hanuman) comes up to you and wants to bless you, most likely he or she will want a monetary blessing in return, and tourists are expected to pay much more.

The great jewelry scam – in Rajasthan and other places, I hear it is common to get tourists to buy jewelry to take back to their country, in order to sell it back to “associates”  of the vendor. Sadly, the associates don’t exist, and the unsuspecting tourist has just bought a bunch of fake jewelry that they’re now stuck with.

“First time in India?” – If you hear this from a rickshaw/taxi driver or a store owner, guard your wallet. It’s a good indication you’re about to get scammed.

“Ek selfie, please”Not a scam, at least for the most part. Usually the people who ask this consider it an honor, or at least a novelty, to have you in their pictures. Be prepared to be asked this on a regular basis. That being said, I have heard of young men asking women for selfies and then posting the pics on social media, stating that this was their “girlfriend”.

There are, I’m sure, many other scams. These are the one’s I’ve encountered, or in the case of the jewelry, heard about. If you are thinking of going to India, by all means, go. Just be aware. Many others have written about scams in India. One of my favorite sites for travelers is IndiaMike.com, which has a wealth of information.

So go. Travel responsibly, and remember not to sweat the small stuff.

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And until next time, be well and peaceful.

Bye Bye Buy…sort of

I thought I’d do a reckoning of my no-buying for a year. I’m afraid I’ve slipped a bit, but I am continuing my efforts to stick with it.

My purchase list so far:

Painting supplies – a tube of watercolor paint, a sketchbook, a masking pen (which din’t work), and a calligraphy pen as a replacement for the masking pen (which worked marginally better). As I am looking into selling my art professionally, I don’t feel too bad about the purchases in this category, but I did neglect to include art supplies as an exception. So there it is.

A Hindi-English Dictionary. I know some Hindi, and it is my dream to someday become fluent in it, along with some other languages in that tree. I could have bought it as a digital version, but for reference, sometimes an actual paper book is much more useful.

A skillet. Sort of an impulse buy. We have some old cast aluminum cookware at home, but cooking eggs on it is a sticky mess. That being said, I could have avoided this purchase and worked with what was in the kitchen already.

A picture frame. Totally could have bought this used, but I wanted to put a picture of some nuns on my altar, and felt the picture deserved a new frame. Would they care? Probably not.

And I blew out both knees of my only pair of jeans, so I replaced them (the pair of jeans, not the knees).

Not a long list, and all of the purchases had some reasoning behind them. But my goal is to not buy anything outside of the previously mentioned exceptions for a year. So I will continue to keep at it.

I’m not beating myself up over what I’ve bought. My goal in doing this is to make it a learning process. When I notice the urge to buy something, where does the need truly exist? Does it exist? What rationale does the mind use to justify breaking my vow? Can I look into that and see it for what it is?

I’ve read of using a “Thirty Day List” in the book “Your Money or Your Life”. Pretty self-explanatory: if you want to buy something, you put it on a list. You wait 30 days. If you still want to buy it, go for it. In using this practice, I’ve usually found that I didn’t really need the item (and never did), and the desire for the object wanes or evaporates, vs the feeling of “I have to have this NOW” that I may feel at the moments before an impulse purchase.

So my goal in this project is sort of a “365 Day List”. A learning curve to watch impulse purchases, and also to save on limited funds. Some might say I’ve failed already, but my goal in this is the process, not an absolute. So I will continue to work on not buying, and watch the “I want” mind.

PS. Speaking of buying, a friend suggested I should write an entry on scams I’ve encountered in my travels, so I promise, that’s coming next!

Be well and peaceful

It’s not you. It’s not them. It just is (or isn’t).

OK, so I’ve decided to keep the blog rolling for now.

I have heard from so many friends lately that are in challenging relationships, or are in the aftermath of failed relationships, that I wanted to share some words of, well, maybe “not-wisdom”. Maybe experience.

I hate to say it, but I’ve been in a lot of failed relationships. If you’re looking for how to get into a good relationship and stay there, find another blog. This is NOT the blog you were looking for.

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But if you’re interested in what I’ve learned, or are looking for some commiseration, keep reading. I am by no means claiming to be an expert. Some of this is more intellectual knowledge than internalized, but we’re all getting there in our own time. Some of this is from Buddhist practice, some is from a book I’ve recently read called “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach, some from friends, and some is just from past experience. Much of it overlaps. You may be aware of these things already, but in my own experience, I find commonality with others to be helpful.

First and foremost: There is nothing wrong with you. The end of this relationship (or the relationship in general) has no bearing on your worth as a human being. It’s just the nature of human relationships. Repeat as needed.

Maybe you keep thinking of the good times you had together and minimizing the bad, and wondering what went wrong. Or maybe you’re thinking only of the bad, and wondering “What the h$$$ was I thinking?” Sometimes you think of both. That’s OK.

If they broke things off, you may be wondering why. You may never hear their answer of “why” and even if they tell you, it probably won’t make sense. If you ended the relationship, you might feel guilt even though you know deep down that it was the right choice. All of these things are OK.

You and this other person came together for a period of time, you learned from them and they learned from you. Maybe there were good things that happened between you. Maybe a lot of good things. Or maybe a lot of bad things. Maybe both. Yet for some reason or another, that run came to an end, as all things do eventually. Even the truest love birds are parted by death. The fact that you and this person are not together anymore has nothing to do with your worth as a human being. Like two puzzle pieces, you simply did not fit. Or you did for a while, but now your shapes have changed, and the match is gone. You learned what you needed to learn from this person and this particular lesson is over.

You may have feelings of loss, loneliness, and perhaps even a feeling of worthlessness.

Accept them. Meet them with friendliness. Telling yourself that you shouldn’t have these feelings will only feed them and make a stronger narrative around them.

As you come to see and accept the feelings there without creating that narrative, eventually, they get tired and go away. Honest. This will take a while, and will be a struggle to say the least. Be patient. Give yourself time and don’t be in a rush for acceptance. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself.

Imagine that all of your friends and loved ones are standing around you in a circle, cheering you on. Hopefully you have family and friends nearby that can do this in person, but if not, use your imagination. Try to talk to yourself as they would talk to you; not beating yourself up.

Eventually we find that there is so much more in life than these transient feelings. And the transient relationship.

And know, dear reader, that I’m cheering for you too.

Spring has sprung

It’s been a while since my last post. It’s not that life has been boring by any means, but I haven’t had any news that I wanted to share. I’ve faced a few curveballs in early spring that knocked me down for a bit, but am back on my feet. And wheels. Now that the temperatures are rising, I’ve been taking time for myself outdoors as well as inside, and have been walking and riding the trails nearby.

To be honest, I almost scrapped the blog. I’ve become even more aware that there’s a huge potential for making a “self” out of blogging; a story line that one can buy into and build upon. Sort of like certain social media venues. I’m still debating whether or not to continue, or in what way. But for now, perhaps I’ll just try to brighten your day with a little local color.

Enjoy the photos, and feel free to share your feelings about keeping a blog.

Be well and peaceful.

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Bye bye buy

I’ve decided to make 2019 a year of buying nothing. “What!?” You say? “How will you live?”

OK, I’ll explain. If you search for “Year of Buying Nothing” online, you’ll see that I’m not the first person to do this. Many have done this – and succeeded, before me. Everyone has their own parameters of what is excluded. Food, medicine, and shelter are the usual items. Deciding further than that depends on your situation. Your mileage may vary.  But the idea is to get off the consumer treadmill and evaluate when your purchases truly add value to your life, or whether they’re a distraction to mask some deeper desire that things will never fulfill (Hint: it’s often the latter).

Spend a few minutes in any thrift store and you will see thousands of items that once were brand new. They were sitting on a shelf, and someone walked by and saw them, exclaiming to some degree, “This X is perfect! How did I ever live without this?”. Then that person spent their money, took the item home, and was quite happy with it. For a while. And with time, the item lost its appeal, and gathered dust. Until one day, the person saw it and said (more or less) “Why did I ever buy this? I don’t need it, and I don’t want it.” And then it ends up in the thrift store with all the other items.

I’m not advocating having an empty home, and there are those whose income is limited to the point that this will be a given. But for those of us who have the inclination and ability to do this, I think it’s worthwhile.

So here are the exclusions I’ve set for myself:

  1. Food, medicines, and consumables one would get at the grocery store, such as shampoo, etc..
  2. Non-physical Experiences – I don’t eat at restaurants very often, but will continue buying meals (and coffee) out on occasion. Same with travel expenses or park fees. Anything that doesn’t take up space in one’s home.
  3. Electronic media – I may revisit this if I see that I’m spending too much here, but again, doesn’t take up space (other than computer memory).
  4. Gifts – My goal is not to inflict my simplicity path on anyone else, and I’ve already done a lot of downsizing in this category. I may investigate giving experiences as gifts at some point.
  5. Replacements: If something I own currently becomes beyond repair, I will allow myself to replace it, but only if it’s essential.

These are the allowances I’m giving myself. My goal is to limit how much I spend on things, and to look at why I bring them into my life.

I’ve always had a minimalist nature, and since I stopped working, my income has been limited. Not unbearably so, but enough to suggest that I could benefit from putting the brakes on extra spending. I’m also looking forward to watching the mind when it can’t get what it wants, and discovering why it wants what it does (if there’s any rhyme or reason to it).

I am sending out an invitation: If you’re up for joining me in this process, please add your comments at the bottom. Decide your own parameters, and see how they work for you. Don’t think you can do it for a year? Try a month for starters and see how it goes. I’m looking forward to sharing the journey…